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Bated Breath

premature baby

Many of the medical interventions put in place to ensure the survival of a premature baby need to be balanced against a large number of serious side-effects.

By Rebecca Lim

Medical advances are enabling increasingly premature babies to survive, but the health risks they face can persist well beyond childhood. Now a clinical trial in Melbourne is testing the use of foetal stem cells to ward off chronic lung disease in premature babies.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Babies born prematurely have a pretty rough start to life. Not surprisingly, this becomes more problematic for extremely premature babies born within the first 26 weeks of pregnancy.

This is a bit of a catch-22, since improvements in obstetric and neonatal care are leading to increasing number of deliveries of extremely premature babies.

In fact, these days babies as premature as 22 weeks of gestation are now born alive, albeit with health problems.

A mere two decades ago, these babies would have been considered non-viable births. As a result, obstetric care and neonatal management dance a tight tango to rapidly develop clinical management protocols that keep these babies alive with as few developmental problems as possible.

The more premature a baby is, the more developmental milestones need to be achieved postnatally. One of these major milestones is lung development. The lungs of a premature baby do not have the complex alveolar structures needed for essential gas exchange.

Steroids such as dexamethasone or hydrocortisone are given to mothers prior to preterm labour. These help speed up the development of the lungs to reduce the incidence of respiratory distress syndrome and related complications following premature birth.

Steroids are also given to premature babies after birth to improve lung function and stabilise low...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.